In today’s law office, an infected workstation can mean much more than the occasional annoyance of a pesky pop up. It can mean the spread of a virus to all of the devices on your firm's network and the loss of valuable data. As follow up to Paul Unger’s Cybersecurity Plan webinar, check out the top ten signs your computer may be infected – and how to fix them!
To start, let’s talk about the most prevalent and recognizable sign, those pop ups I mentioned earlier. These can come from downloading seemingly benign programs or visiting a webpage that asks for more permissions than usual. While an ad for cheap medicine or singles in your area may seem harmless, they represent unwanted software on your computer that could be doing much more than it lets on. The first step you should take if this or any of the following signs of malware appear is always to contact your firm's IT department or consultant as soon as possible.
In conjunction with unwanted ads is the appearance of new programs or apps running in the background. Should you at any point see new software that you did not download or were notified was to be downloaded, it’s a good sign your computer was infected and is now compromised. These programs can appear in many forms but are usually named something innocuous to escape notice. When working or closing your workstation for the day, if you notice a program or service that doesn’t close and continues running in the background, that would be worthy of concern.
Sometimes the signs are not as obvious as new programs or ads popping up. It can be something as simple as a slow performance from your computer. When your computer starts performing sluggishly or is slow to react to requests, it’s because the background processes are busy with other tasks. This can be a good sign that somewhere along the way, your computer was infected and is now silently following the commands of a malicious program. This not only affects your day to day workflow, but can signify serious issues.
Your computer requires a certain amount of memory to run efficiently; a sudden spike in memory usage during everyday tasks is another giveaway of an infected machine. Once that memory has been redirected by malware, you’ll see overall slowness and program performance issues. Should you see this behavior, a simple check of your computer’s memory could save time and money down the road. This is also a good time to contact your IT department or consultant because even if it is not a virus, a slow computer can make the workday twice as long.
One of the problems created by memory issues and unwanted programs running in the background is sudden malfunctions in the programs you use every day. Should you notice error messages appearing in a program that never had issues before, there’s a good chance it’s due to malware taking away that program’s resources or directly interfering with it. These issues can also result in programs crashing or not responding as well, a major issue that can result in work loss and should be rectified as soon as possible.
Missing files are another example of lost work that not only can impact you severely and compromise your obligation to protect client data, but also be a sign of active malware. Should the files you saved yesterday no longer appear today, you should absolutely inquire as to why. Malware can encrypt and rename files as well as cause unexpected program failures that will result in the loss of your work and data. It is important to call attention to this immediately before more files can go missing.
Not all the signs are as hard to spot as a missing file, however, some are quite obvious. A common sign of an infected machine is issues with your internet browser (Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari, Internet Explorer, etc.). Being redirected from your usual home page to another search engine you have never heard of should always give you pause. Any website that appears without being navigated to should cause concern. These websites can steal whatever information you put in them and direct you to more malicious sites, some designed to look similar to the actual page you request.
Sometimes, malware comes from a trusted source like your email. It can come disguised in the as an email from a prospective client or a harmless looking attachment. While email filters are becoming quite advanced, it’s always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to suspicious emails. This is one of more common methods of infection and should be something to keep an eye out for; when in doubt reach out to your contact to confirm they’ve sent an attached document and avoid forwarding messages you suspect are harmful.
One of the signs of malware can be detected in a decidedly low-tech way. If you can hear your computer’s fan or hard disk working overtime, it can be an indication its working on something it shouldn’t be. The same goes for an overheating device. If you can notice a physical issue with your computer, it means there is something wrong under the hood, so to speak.
The Most Important Sign
Malware comes in all shapes and sizes and there is always something more advanced around the corner. Some of these viruses don’t have any of the telltale signs listed above. The most important sign is simply that if somethings feels or looks wrong, it probably is.
I hope this short list will help you identify and eliminate any possible security issues that may arise. Being on the offensive is always the best defense and following up in dealing with possible venues of attacks, whether it be a strange email or unexpected error, will help minimize the damage they can cause.
If you need help building your firm's cybersecurity plan, contact us or call (877) 676-5492.